A RunnerCredit: Wikimedia Commons/Aarni HeiskanenRoad running? If you had suggested this to me a couple of years ago and continued by saying I'd one day reach a stage where I’d run thirty miles every week, I would have thought you crazy. And yet, in January 2013, almost on a whim, I took up running, just to try something different. On that particular day, I hadn’t even planned to run; while in the local park, performing some (admittedly pretty lame) aerobic exercises, I decided to see how long it took me to run to the edge of the woods and back. Six minutes later, feeling pleased with myself, and slightly nauseous (this soon passed), I’d found myself a new hobby and a great way to stay in shape. It isn’t the easiest thing in the world to start, because doing things worthwhile in life aren’t always about choosing what’s easy, but here are a few tips to help you start running, and get more out of your exercise.

1. Are You Ready For Running?

You might have noticed in my introduction I said running is a “great way to stay in shape,” and not a “great way to get in shape.” Running requires fitness. If you’re not in reasonable shape to start with, I would recommend against taking up running for the time being. Remember the old saying ‘learn to walk before you can run’? Well, it’s as true about running as about anything else. Be honest with yourself, and if you are obese, or haven’t taken any form of strenuous exercise for a long time, then try another form of exercise first. Walking is perfectly good exercise, so try to fit in say, an extra thirty minutes walking a day, every day, and see how that goes. Don’t spend a day walking for hours on end and then not bother for another week; frequent and regular is the best tactic. 

You may also need to make changes to your diet. If you’re a snackaholic, you can fill up on flavoured rice cakes, slices of wholemeal bread, dried fruit or yoghurt. Eat all the bananas and sweetened oatmeal you like, and save fried food or pizza as a weekly treat.  If you are in any doubt about what level of exercise you should embark upon, or have concerns over your diet, consult with your physician.

2. What You Need to Run

Next, a little preparation, and I don’t mean buying expensive running equipment. One of the best things about running is that it’s free! In nearly two years of running, all I have bought is a new pair of running shoes a year ago, which I purchased from Amazon for around seventy dollars, and some general purpose sports shorts for a few dollars at a discount store. I’ve heard people say you should buy a new pair of running shoes every 350-400 miles, but I think that’s nonsense. As long as the shoes are comfortable and in good condition, they’re suitable for running. If you do need new running shoes, bear in mind they’ll take a couple of weeks of frequent use to ‘break in’, but stuffing the shoes full of scrunched-up newspaper when you’re not using them will help stretch them out.

Before you hit the road, learn the correct running technique. There are plenty of places online, such as YouTube tutorials, where you can learn how to run correctly, but the basics are never let your heels touch the ground, and each step should land on the midstep or the ball of your feet. Your heels are the body’s breaks, and running ‘flat-footed’ is bad for your joints and will wear you out faster.

Aside from an old t-shirt to wear and maybe a bottle of tap water (I don’t bother myself, as I find it distracting), you’re good to go.

3. Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Don’t try to do too much too soon. When I took up running, I timed myself running aroundChecking the TimeCredit: Wikimedia Commons/The Sports Museum of Finland the block, and this took 10-15 minutes, which is good enough novice’s daily run. After a few weeks, I ran twice around the block a couple of times a week. Later still, I ran for a full hour for the first time and now a one hour run is for me the shortest run of the week, and I am preparing for my first two-hour run. Stick at running, and build your times up carefully, and you’ll find yourself doing the same. The important word here is time – it will take time out of your day to exercise, and take time to see results. 

4. The Spice of Life

I soon learned variety is an important part of a runner’s schedule. You’ll get bored with the same one route, and if you are just running laps of a track, you’ll get bored even sooner. Use an online map site (mapometer.com is designed for runners, cyclists and walkers) to work out different routes of a similar distance until you have at least four or five different routes to choose from, maybe one route for each day of your weekly running plan. I’m lucky in that I live near a park, and on the outskirts of town, which helps with avoiding crowded sidewalks and roads, although I do take a route through the town center on Sundays when it is less busy. Remember, you can always reverse an established route if you feel like a change.

5. Tune In

This sounds odd, but make a radio station your friend. I prefer not to run in silence, so always listen to digital radio via my cell phone. When I’ve worked out in the past, I find listening to even my favourite albums soon gets repetitive and makes things feel predictable, so now I work out to my favourite radio shows or sometimes a sports commentary. Live broadcasts are fine, but with commercial stations, you can end up hearing the same ads over and over, not to mention the same news reports or traffic updates. My suggestion would be to download your radio station’s app, as downloadable shows often have adverts and bulletins cut out. The BBC Radio app offers a vast range of shows to download; I listen to BBC Radio 6 Music as I run, with its varied mix of chat and new music.

Radio helps your running experience to keep fresh and means you can do two things at the same time. If you’re going to do this, you might need to buy a special pair of sports earpieces, which wrap around the ear to hold everything in place, but you can buy a pair of these for less than twenty dollars. Also, if you intend to run at night while you listen to music, make doubly sure you wear high visibility clothing to stay safe.

6. Take Note

A Lot of People RunningCredit: Wikimedia Commons/Peter van der SluijsFinally, I find it helpful to keep track of my progress as a runner by taking part in a timed run over a set distance once a fortnight. By keeping note of your times over a specific distance, you will be able to see how much you have improved in terms of fitness, which acts as encouragement to continue running. For this, you will need a route free from traffic and with few pedestrians, so the run is always uninterrupted. This is where access to an athletics track would come in useful, but an isolated section of a park with a clearly marked pathway will do as an alternative; if you can find an organised regular run in your area, so much the better. This timed run needn’t be very long in distance (I find 3 miles is ideal); speed is the main thing on this occasion.

To give you an idea of the progress it is possible to make, on my first timed run in April 2013, I covered 5km in 27 minutes and 12 seconds. At the end of last month, I ran the same course in a personal best of 20 minutes and 40 seconds. And if I can do it, anyone can do it. On your marks, get set – and go!